Have you ever wondered if your dog truly loves you as much as you love them? They say that a dog is a man's best friend, so it's a given that we all love our dogs unconditionally. But is the feeling mutual?
While your dog cannot express themselves with words, verbally declaring their love for us, there are lots of other ways they try to let us know we are loved.
They are pleased to see you.
The easiest way to know if your dog loves you is to look at their reaction when greeting you. If they're really pleased to see you and welcome you merrily with a wagging tail and lots of excitement, it's safe to say that they love you and have missed you too! Even if you're only gone for a short time, it can seem much longer to them, so they will still be pleased you're back with them.
They actively seek affection from you.
If your dog craves physical closeness to you, they love you and are bonded with you. They may come to you and nuzzle your hand, demanding you stroke them, paw at you, lean on your leg or want to sit on your knee for a cuddle. These behaviours are your dog's way of showing affection towards you and choosing to spend their time close to you. Studies show a reduction in blood pressure for both dogs and humans when stroking and fussing our dogs. However, humans can be guilty of wanting to shower their beloved dogs with affection and love, despite their dogs not always being comfortable with this. It's essential to take notice of your dog's body language and wait for them to actively seek attention from you instead.
They respond to your emotions.
Dogs are superbly intelligent and can effectively recognise and understand human emotions and body language. They often know precisely how we feel, even better than we do ourselves sometimes. If you are sad and your dog tries to cheer you up, they love you and want to make you feel better again. If you feel happy and upbeat, your dog will join in with these feelings! In a 2014 study, scientists from Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest discovered dogs responded to human voices and reacted according to whether they sounded happy, sad, or angry. This is remarkably similar to how humans process the same information, which helps explain how we can communicate with our dogs so effectively and why they seem to understand us when we speak to them.
They make eye contact with you.
There is some truth behind the term 'puppy-dog eyes.' If your dog gazes at you lovingly with soft eyes and loose body language, they're likely showing they love you. Naturally, prolonged eye contact can be perceived as threatening to dogs, so if they actively choose to make this kind of eye contact with you, you know they love you! A Japanese study by animal behaviourist Takefumi Kikusui showed that the Oxytocin level in dogs and humans dramatically increased after looking into each other's eyes. The dog's levels raised by 130%, and the human levels rose by 300%. This Oxytocin positive feedback loop is something only usually seen in mothers and their children, so this proves precisely how close our dogs and we are and how much we love each other.
They look to you for support.
Unlike many other animals, our dogs often seek us out for support and guidance, especially if they feel scared or unsure. In a study completed by Monique Udell, an animal behaviourist from Oregan State University, she provided the same task to ten pet dogs and ten captive human-raised wolves. She showed each of them a sausage and then placed it into a lidded plastic box before leaving them to open it. The study results showed that the wolves were much more determined to solve the task themselves and rarely looked to humans for help. However, the dogs were much more motivated and more successful when their owners encouraged them to keep going. This proves they not only rely on us for guidance, but they love and trust us enough to guide them in the right direction.
They initiate play with you.
If your dog wants to involve you with playtime and share their toys with you, it must be love! If they didn’t love and trust you, they would be more reluctant to give up their favourite toy so that you could play with them. If your dog prefers games where you are involved too, then this is because they love you and know that things are much more fun when you are playing together!
They want to be involved in your activities.
If you can't do anything without your dog wanting to be involved, too, then that's just because they love you! They are actively choosing to spend their time with you instead of going off to do something independently. Of course, they could just be nosy and frightening of missing out on the fun, but we would rather believe it's because they love us and want to be involved in whatever we are doing. Long gone are the days when you could visit the bathroom independently without your doggy shadow following closely behind you!
They want to sleep near you
When your dog is asleep, they are at their most vulnerable. So, if they want to spend their sleep time being near you, take that as a sign of love and trust. If they wish to sleep on the sofa with you, in your bed, or simply in their own bed close to you, they must love you. Plus, you have the added bonus of your dog not being offended by your bedhead and morning breath! They will love you just as much as always.
They lick you
Your dog may lick you to make themselves feel good, bond with you, or show affection towards you. It's hard to say no to doggy kisses! Although there can be other reasons behind your dog’s licking, they often do it to show us they love us. Licking is an intrinsically natural behaviour for dogs as it is their way of exploring the world around them and forming social bonds. Just as we explore our environment with our hands, our dogs use their tongues in a similar way. Licking releases dopamine and endorphins into your dog’s system, making them feel happy and relaxed.
They prioritise you over other things.
If your dog prioritises you over everything else in their life, then you are truly loved by them. Many dogs will find the temptation of tasty treats too much to ignore, so don’t be offended if they are more interested in a snack than you! If you can get your dog to focus on you no matter what is happening around them, they must love and trust you to take care of your situation.
They do truly love us
As well as the anectodical evidence suggesting our dogs love us, there are also scientific research findings which prove our dogs actually do feel love for us. It's no secret that dogs explore the world through scent more than any of their other senses. So, in a 2015 study by Emory University, 12 dogs were provided with five different scents; familiar human, unfamiliar human, familiar dog, unfamiliar dog and their own scent. They had all been trained to lay still in an MRI scanner, without restraint, so their reactions to each scent could be measured.
This study found that every scent caused each dog's olfactory bulb in their brain to light up, suggesting they found each one attractive and interesting. However, it was only when the dogs encountered the scent of a familiar human that their caudate nucleus also responded. The caudate nucleus is known as the reward centre of a dog's brain because it's here that positive associations of rewards are formed. Upon smelling their familiar humans' scent, all the dog's brains had the same reaction. This suggests that each dog in the study is positively associated with their known human's scent, proving they're socially bonded to them.
So, although there is no way of knowing definitively if this response was shown because they loved the human they could smell, it certainly proves they associated them with good things. Similarly, when humans are shown images of their dog, their caudate nucleus is also activated, and we know this is because they love their dog! So, because our dogs are sentient beings, they may be responding to love in the same way we do as humans.
Although our dogs may show us that they love us in different ways, we also have scientific proof that they genuinely love and care for us. It is a comforting thought to know our dogs love us just as much as we love them.